RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - The last time Jeff Skinner played in the NHL All-Star Game, he was an 18-year-old rookie with the Carolina Hurricanes, halfway through his first pro season. He became the youngest player ever to be named to an All-Star team in any of North America's four major sports.
That was in 2011 and he remembers being in the dressing room of what is now PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., surrounded by future Hall of Famers and the other great players of the time.
"I was pretty nervous to be honest," he said. "It's not too long into your career, the first half of the season, and just to be around and be in the locker room with all the guys you grew up watching was pretty nervous - a pretty nervous experience.
"But I think having it here at the time and being part of the home team made it more exciting, more special. We got a big turnout for it and that made it a little more special."
Video: NJD@BUF: Skinner picks the corner from the circle
Eight seasons later, Skinner, now 26, is headed to his second All-Star Weekend as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.
He has 29 goals (tied for second in the NHL), seven game winners (tied for first) and three overtime markers (tied for second) through 43 games. Those credentials earned him a spot on the first-ever "Last Men In" ballot for the Atlantic Division. Sabres fans carried him the rest of the way.
Skinner won the fan vote and was named to the All-Star roster Friday afternoon.
He admits his family probably paid more attention to the voting process than he did, but he's thankful for all the support he received. He beat out Toronto's Morgan Rielly, Tampa Bay's Brayden Point, Boston's Patrick Bergeron, Florida's Aleksander Barkov, Ottawa's Mark Stone, Montreal's Shea Weber and Detroit's Dylan Larkin.
Skinner is in his first season with the Sabres and has experienced firsthand yet another example of how rabid the fanbase can be.
"It just shows the passion and how much the fans love the Sabres," he said.
"…I think when you're a visiting team member, you get a little snapshot. Once you get into a city, you're sort of a part of the community. Walking around every day and seeing how much they love the sports there and the Sabres and how much they love the Bills.
"It's definitely something I sort of didn't grasp fully until I moved to Buffalo. It's pretty special to be a part of that. As a player, it's cool."
Video: BUF@WPG: Skinner backhands home PPG for 400th point
Sabres captain Jack Eichel was named to the Atlantic Division roster back on Jan. 2. Eichel leads the team with 49 points (15+34) in 40 games.
"As a teammate, it's fun to go together," Skinner said. "All of your teammates play a part in the selection. You're not going to have a good season, you're not going to have good production without the team playing well, without your teammates making you look good out there. Being able to go with Jack is an added special part of that."
In addition to Eichel and Skinner, equipment manager Dave Williams and assistant equipment manager George Babcock will also represent the Sabres in San Jose.
The rest of the Atlantic Division All-Star team includes Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos (TBL), Auston Matthews and John Tavares (TOR), David Pastrnak (BOS), Thomas Chabot (OTT), Keith Yandle (FLA), Carey Price (MTL) and Jimmy Howard (MTL). Price will not attend the festivities in San Jose due to a "nagging injury;" a replacement has yet to be named.
The NHL All-Star Skills Competition is set for Fri., Jan. 25 from SAP Center and the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game will be played on Sat., Jan. 26.